VICTORIA CROSS WAR HEROES #9 FAMILY HEARTBREAK for BRIGADIER GENERAL ROLAND BOYS BRADFORD

The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of an enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Brigadier General Roland Boys Bradford was presented with the VC by King George V in Hyde Park on 2 June 1917.

On his return to the front he ordered that the hymn ‘Abide with Me’ be sung every night by his men. The tradition grew and was taken up by the entire Durham Light Infantry (DLI), it remains the hymn of the regiment to this day. 

At 25 he was the youngest Brigadier General in the modern history of the British Army to lead a combat formation. But on 30 November 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai he was killed. On hearing the news the Durham Light Infantry sang ‘Abide With Me’ in respect for their former commander.

Unfortunately the Bradford story doesn’t end there. Two of Roland’s brothers -Second Lieutenant James Bradford died of wounds during the Battle of Arras in 1917 and a year later Lieutenant Commander George Bradford died during the Zeebrugge Raid, he was also awarded the Victoria Cross.

Roland and George are the only brothers to both be awarded the Victoria Cross and no other family is more highly decorated in the history of the British Army. This is Roland’s story.


I was born on 23 February 1892 in Carwood House, Bishop Auckland in County Durham. My parents were George, a mining engineer and Amy, originally from Kent, they married in 1885. I had three brothers and one sister.

I was educated in Darlington at Bondgate Wesleyan School, and went on to Epsom College, Surrey where I captained the Rugby team and was Lance Corporal in the Epsom Cadet Corps.

In 1910 I joined the Territorial Army and two years later transferred to the regular army, serving with the 5th Durham Light Infantry. I was enjoying military life so much I changed my mind about a medical degree and stayed in the Army.

At the start of the war we sailed from Southampton for France on 9 September 1914 landing at St Nazaire the following day. I got on really well with the men and showed tactical awareness so was fast-tracked for promotion. In 1915, we saw action on the Aisne, I was promoted to Lieutenant and awarded the Military Cross.

One year later I was promoted to Major and transferred to the 1st/9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. I was given full command of the battalion. I led them in combat throughout 1916 and much of 1917 and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel aged 24.

On 1 October 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, the 50th Division was ordered into action on the Northern coast of France. It was for his actions during this battle that Bradford would be awarded the Victoria Cross. 

A leading Battalion had suffered very severe casualties, and the Commander was wounded, its flank became dangerously exposed to the enemy and was raked by machine-gun fire, the situation was critical. I asked permission to command the exposed Battalion in addition to my own. Permission was granted.

At once, the two Battalions proceeded to the front lines, we were under fire of all description but succeeded in rallying the attack, we captured and defended the objective, and in the end secured the flank.

Bradford led another attack and captured over 300 prisoners, two howitzers and machine guns with a minimum of casualties. His Battalion penetrated the enemy’s second line and captured Cherisey near the German border.

The following day, he was appointed Temporary Brigadier General, the youngest in the Army, at just 25, he assumed command of 186th Brigade.

He returned to the front after receiving his VC award in June 1917. Sadly, on 30 November, he was visiting his Brigade’s positions alone at Graincourt near the Belgian border, when during a German counterattack he was killed. Finally, Roland was buried in Hermies British Cemetery 100 mile south of Dunkirk.

In addition to his VC and MC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with ‘Mons’ clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The medals are held by the Durham Light Infantry.

Research: Commonwealth War Graves.

Comprehensive Guide to Victoria Cross.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021

VICTORIA CROSS WAR HEROES #8 RICHARD STANNARD

The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of an enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Richard Stannard was awarded the VC on 3 September 1940 by King George VI at Buckingham Palace for his command of the armed trawler HMS Arab at Namsos, Norway. This is his story.


I was born on 21 August 1902 in Blyth, Northumberland, I was the eldest of five, my parents were George and Elizabeth. We were living in Cowpen Quay, Blyth, when my father’s ship, Mount Oswald was lost on a voyage from USA in 1912. Then I was educated at the Royal Naval Merchant School for orphans of merchant seamen in Berkshire.
 
In 1918 I went to sea as an apprentice and ten year later joined the Orient Line and was appointed sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve. A few year later they promoted me to Lieutenant. In 1928 at West Ham, East London I married Phyllis May, we had two daughters.
 
I was awarded a VC because of the events between 28 April and 2 May 1940. I was in command of the armed trawler HMS Arab at Namsos, Norway. The vessel was subjected to 31 bombing attacks, during one of them Namsos jetty was hit and set on fire, so I ran Arab’s bows against the wharf and for two hours tried to extinguish the fire. I succeeded in saving part of the jetty which was invaluable in the evacuation of Namsos.
 
Then I established an armed camp under the shelter of a cliff where off duty seamen could rest with safety. When another trawler was hit and about to blow up, I and two others boarded Arab and moved her 100 yards to safety. We were leaving the fjord when Arab was attacked by a German bomber who ordered me to steer east or be sunk.
 
I kept on course, and held my fire till the enemy was within 800 yards and then shot the aircraft down. With a damaged rudder, propeller and cracked main engine castings, I sailed back to England.

Richard was also captain of the destroyer Vimy which with the Beverly, sank U18 in the Atlantic 1943. He was also promoted to Commander in 1947 and Captain in 1952. In 1947, he re-joined the Orient Line and in 1955 was appointed Marine Superintendent in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

He became Marine Superintendent of the P&O Orient Lines of Australia in 1960, and until 1973, served on the Council of the Royal Humane Society of New South Wales.

Richard Stannard died on 22 July 1977 in Sydney, New South Wales, and was cremated at the Rookwood Crematorium, Sydney.

Research:. Commonwealth War Graves

Comprehensive Guide to Victoria Cross.

Gary Alikivi  May 2021

TYNESIDE HERO TOMMY CRACKS THE NAZI CODE

The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Petard was built at Vickers Armstrong Naval Yard on Tyneside, she saw active service during the Second World War in the Mediterranean. On board was 16 year old Tommy Brown from North Shields who risked his life to capture vital documents from a German U-boat, which ultimately helped British code breakers change the course of the war.  

Allied shipping was taking a battering in the Atlantic. Winston Churchill wrote ‘The only thing that frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril’. On 30 October 1942, a submarine was tracked on radar near Port Said off the Egyptian coast. HMS Petard, with four other British ships, attacked the U-boat with depth charges forcing it to surface. The German seamen abandoned their vessel.

First Lieutenant Anthony Fasson, and Able Seaman Colin Grazier swam across to U-boat 559. They climbed the tower then went below and gathered together an Enigma machine and code-books. They were helped by NAAFI canteen assistant, Tommy Brown. When asked at the inquiry what conditions were like, he replied:

‘The lights were out — the First Lieutenant had a torch. The water was not very high but rising all the time. There was a hole forward of the tower and water was coming in. As I went down through the tower compartment I felt it pouring down my back. They passed some books to me’.

‘I saw Grazier and the First Lieutenant appear at the bottom of the hatch. I shouted twice ‘you better come up’, they had just started when the submarine started to sink very quickly. I managed to jump off and was picked up by a whaler’.

The U-boat became their coffin as Fasson and Grazier drowned when it sank with them and the Enigma machine inside. HMS Petard left the area signalling that documents had been captured. The treasured codebooks retrieved by Brown were immensely valuable to code-breakers at Bletchley Park in England. But nobody would know the effects of their actions, as for thirty years they were guarded by the official secrets act.

Not long after the three hero’s had blown wide open the German codes – they were read by the Allies. The convoys could now be directed away from known U-boat locations, saving thousands of lives. Long range bombers were called in and an aggressive campaign turned the war. By 1943 the Battle of the Atlantic was won paving the way for eventual Allied victory.

Tommy returned home to 6 Lily Gardens on the Ridges Estate. He was one of eleven children to Mr and Mrs T.W. Brown, his father was also a member of the forces. But when Tommy joined in April 1942 he lied to the Navy about his age. The officers found this out, so he spent his days on HMS Belfast moored on the Tyne, allowing him to spend his nights at home.

But sadly one early morning in February 1945, he died attempting to rescue his 4 year old sister Maureen from a fire at home. Called out at 2.30am and fighting through intense heat and dense smoke, it took fireman one and a half hours to extinguish the fire which destroyed half the house.

Rain poured down on a cold grey day as neighbours stood patiently outside the Brown’s home silently paying tribute to the funeral of Tommy and Maureen. In a full Naval funeral, an escort formed outside the cemetery gates and six members of the ship that Brown sailed in, were coffin bearers. Family and friends attended the graveside service in Preston Cemetery, North Shields.

His family were awarded the George Medal by King George VI, Tommy being the youngest person to ever receive the award. Today, the Exchange Building in North Shields has a stained glass window devoted to Tommy, a permanent reminder of a true hero.

If you have any information about Thomas Brown please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Research: North East War Memorials project, Celebrating Bletchley Park and special thanks to Joyce Marti for providing archive Tyneside newspaper information.

Gary Alikivi   May 2021.

TYNESIDE WAR HEROES #3- Richard Wallace Annand VC (1914-2004)

THE DAY I WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS

I’m writing this on the day BBC TV are showing a service remembering the victory over Japan that brought an end to the Second World War.

During the war, massive acts of heroism were shown by young men who were rightly awarded for their courage and bravery. Some hailed from the North East and in this post we focus on one young man from South Shields. This is his story.

I was born in South Shields, North East England on 5th November 1914. My father was Lieutenant-Commander Wallace Annand of the Royal Naval Division, he was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. My mother was called Dora and I was their only child.

After leaving school and working in a bank, I joined the Tyne Division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. They promoted me to Sub-Lieutenant and I completed both, navigation and gunnery course.

When the war came I was a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion DLI and we headed off to battle.

On May 12th 1940, the company set up headquarters south of Paris. Three companies moved down into the valley with A on the right, B in the centre and D defending a road bridge on the left. C Company was sent to watch for any movement. There was a rumour that the Germans were hiding in the woods, so C Company withdrew and blew the bridge. This halted any German advance long enough to withdraw across the river.

The next morning, with the enemy on the opposite bank, the assault began with heavy mortar fire hitting D Company’s position beside the ruined bridge. I led two counter-attacks – I was wounded on the second.

The Germans crossed the river over-running a platoon of B Company. After desperate fighting we were unable to push the enemy back across the river and our position was raked with fire. A further attack was inevitable and, shortly after dark under cover of intense fire, the enemy again struck D Company’s position. Armed with grenades, I again went forward, inflicting significant casualties.

We were holding on, but elsewhere the Germans broke through, so a withdrawal was ordered. I realized Private Joseph Hunter was missing so I went back and found him wounded.

I was bringing him back in a wheelbarrow and making good progress until my path was blocked by a fallen tree. I was feeling very weak because I’d lost a lot of blood, so didn’t have the strength to lift Hunter over the tree. I decided to leave him and set off for help. That was a hard decision. Soon after I collapsed but fortunately taken to safety and evacuated.

For his rescue attempt and courageous actions, Annand was presented with the Victoria Cross on 3rd September 1940. The VC is the highest and most prestigious award for courage in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was also made of Freeman of his hometown, South Shields.

Annand served in Britain for the rest of the conflict and much of his service involved training young soldiers, members of the Home Guard and commandos. Plus a spell at the War Office. As a result of permanent damage to his hearing, he was invalided out in 1948 with the rank of captain.

Annand worked at a training centre for disabled people, near Durham, and for the next 30 years devoted his life to helping disabled people. He maintained close links with his regiment, and was president of the Durham Branch of the Light Infantry Association until 1998.

Richard Annand passed away on Christmas Eve 2004, and was cremated at Durham City Crematorium. In 2007 a bronze statue of Richard was unveiled in South Shields Town Hall and in 2018 relatives from around the UK, Canada and Cyprus came together to see the memorial to their ancestor, which stands on the grand staircase of the Town Hall.

His medals including the VC, 1939-45 Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45,  and Army Emergency Reserve Decoration and Bar.

They were originally held on loan by the Durham Light Infantry, before in 2010 they were purchased privately by Michael Ashcroft and are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London.

Gary Alikivi   August 2020

Sources: Ancestry, Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross

 

TYNESIDE WAR HEROES #1 – Adam Herbert Wakenshaw (1914–1942)

THE DAY I WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS

In 2012 when researching a documentary about the impact of the Second World War on South Tyneside residents, I found a number of Tyneside men who served in the British Army who were awarded one of the highest awards, the Victoria Cross.

The VC is the highest and most prestigious award for courage in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. One of those men was Adam Wakenshaw, a private in the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. This is his story.

I was born on 9th June 1914 in Duke Street, Newcastle. Life was really hard. My ma’ Mary, and Thomas my da’ had to feed six children. They struggled on his labourers wage so to help the family I left school at 14 to work at the local colliery.

When I got married it was to Dorothy Douglass in 1932 and our first place was 19 Rye Hill. Not far from Newcastle Central Station. When the War started I left the pit and joined the Durham Light Infantry. In 1940 I was one of the lucky ones to leave Dunkirk.

It was in 1942 we were battling against the Germans at Mersa Matruh on the coast at Egypt. They were coming at us hard. The ground was heavy and rocky we couldn’t dig in – so we hid behind boulders. We had around nine tank guns with us.

 I saw a vehicle it was in close range so fired and made a direct hit. It stopped them dead. The Germans fired back, and blew my left arm off, right above the elbow. They also hit my gun aimer, Eric Mohn, seriously wounding him. The whole crew were injured or killed. The Germans came back in to finish us off.

So me and Eric managed to crawl back to the gun and load the shells. We fired five more rounds and one direct hit which damaged their gun. They fired again I was threw away from the blast but it killed Eric. I managed to drag myself over the rocky ground to the gun and loaded up again.

Sadly, a direct hit killed Adam instantly. That evening, Durham soldiers searched the battlefield. Among the wreckage of his gun, they found Wakenshaw, and buried him where he fell.

He was later re-buried in El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt and posthumously awarded the VC. The medal was presented to his widow, Dorothy, and passed through the family to his daughter, Lilian. The medal was then donated to the Durham Light Infantry Museum.

Today in St Mary’s Church, Newcastle, where Adam was baptised and married, there is a stained glassed window commemorating his life and sacrifice, from his upbringing in Newcastle to his death in North Africa. Also included is the motto of the Durham Light Infantry 9th Battalion ‘Be faithful until death and I will give a crown of life’.

Gary Alikivi  August 2020.

Sources: Ancestry, DLI South Shields, London Gazette 8th September 1942, The Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria & George Cross, Imperial War Museum.

 

HUMANITY & COURAGE – South Shields Historian & Photographer Amy Flagg (1893–1965)

 

The previous post was a snapshot of the life of Victorian photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. Another photographer featured on the blog is South Shields Historian Amy Flagg (links below).

This post highlights the photograph’s Amy produced during the Second World War. She took some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera.

IMG_0979

Page from inside the pamphlet.

When researching a documentary about Amy (Westoe Rose, 2016) I came across detailed records that she had made of German air raids that revealed the amount of suffering the town endured. The Ministry of Information and the Chief Press Officer gave permission to produce Humanity & Courage, pamphlets featuring some photographs that Flagg had taken of war damage to her town.

IMG_0760

Detailed record of air raids over South Shields.

More images are available on the South Tyneside Library website

https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Included here is a picture story from The Shields Gazette showing her friend and Librarian Rose Mary Farrell standing next to a display of Amy’s photographs. They were shown in an exhibition at South Shields Library. The report is dated August 1968, three years after Amy died.

IMG_0693

Links to previous Amy Flagg posts:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/07/19/westoe-rose-making-the-documentary-about-historian-and-photographer-amy-flagg/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/07/11/westoe-rose-the-story-of-amy-flagg-south-shields-historian-photographer-1893-1965/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/12/21/history-lives-amy-c-flagg-south-shields-historian-photographer-1893-1965/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/12/28/amy-flagg-holborn-the-mill-dam-valley/

Gary Alikivi  March 2020

 

HARD UP in HOLBORN – South Shields photographer James Henry Cleet 1876-1959.

During the 1930’s James Cleet was commissioned by South Shields Public Health Department to make a photographic record of ‘slum housing’ in the riverside area of the town – Holborn and Laygate. Side Photographic Gallery in Newcastle produced a booklet in 1979 of some of the photo’s. Not sure if the term ‘slum’ was first used by Side Gallery or Public Health Department ?

First time I came across James Cleet was when I was doing some family and history research in the Local History section of South Tyneside Library in 2007. It gave me the idea to make a documentary highlighting Cleet’s work, and Holborn, the area once known as the industrial heartland of South Shields, also the digitization project.

The Local History section had been awarded funding to digitize thousands of photographs they had in their archive and load them onto a new website. Volunteers were needed for this process and as I was self employed I could give a couple of hours a week to a worthwhile cause.

Spending time looking through photographs, some from the early 1900’s, of people, places and events around South Tyneside was a great way to spend a couple of hours. It wasn’t long till I dropped in more frequently. Photographs by Emmett, Flagg and Cleet were an excellent record of the times.

Some images had familiar street names of area’s where my ancestors lived, mainly Tyne Dock, Holborn and Jarrow. Finding a family of photographers called Downey who had a studio in Eldon Street next to where my great grandmother lived was an added bonus.

There was a small team of volunteers who recorded details of the images, scanned the photo’s, and uploaded them onto the website, this process features in the documentary. Street names, buildings, shops and people were researched, as much information as possible was added. On the back of the pictures was nearly always a date or name of the photographer. But unfortunately, some photographs were left blank and didn’t have any recognizable signs, but were still uploaded.

After a few sessions I could recognize the styles of certain photographers and two of them stood out. Amy Flagg added extensive details to a lot of her work, and covered some powerful subjects like the Second World War – climbing over bombed houses to get the shot won’t have been easy. Some of her images became instantly recognisable, in her darkroom she stamped a date in Roman numerals on the bottom of the photo.

There were a load of photographs that were taken in Holborn by James Cleet, his style and composition was of a very high quality with clean, sharp images. Most of the images are taken on overcast, grey rainy days – is that a coincidence ? I doubt it. The lighting give the pictures a uniform look and add to the bleak, grim atmosphere of the housing clearance.

In research I found he had regular work at ship launches, plus The Shields Gazette and Daily Mirror. While Flagg’s technique was more hand held, Cleet used a tripod in most if not all of his shot’s. Both were passionate about their work.

Around that time an old guy used to come to the local history section and tell me a few stories about Tyne Dock and Holborn as his family lived in those area’s. Next time he brought in a booklet which he gave to me, it featured a collection of the housing clearance photographs I’d been looking at.

The booklet also included reports by the South Shields Medical Officer for Health talking about ‘rat repression’ and ‘eradication of bed bugs’. They reported….’The women had a very hard life. They polished their steps and the pavement was scrubbed. The backyard was washed regular. There was a question of pride. They had to keep them clean or they’d be overrun with vermin. No getting away with it. It had to be kept down’.

The report also included complaints from residents…’A’ve seen some hard up times. Families of nine in one room. I knew a family, the father and mother had to gan ootside to do their business. Yes they used to do their courtin’ ootside. The mother used to stand at the telegraph pole on Johnsons Hill and have her love with the husband and then gan yem to bed. You couldn’t do nowt with all the family livin’ in one room’.

In a previous post I wrote about the important historical archive that Amy Flagg had left to the town: her Second World War photo’s plus the book ‘The History of Shipbuilding in South Shields’, the James Cleet housing clearance booklet is just as important a document of South Shields.

To check out the South Tyneside photographs featuring Amy Flagg and James Cleet go to :   https://www.southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Gary Alikivi   December 2019.